A Brief History
On October 26, 1881, Tombstone, Arizona was the site of what became known as “The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” probably the most famous shootout in the history of the Wild West.
Plenty of movies have been made about the incident, including one in 1957 by that same name, all of which got various aspects of the incident wrong. Like most depictions of the gunfight, the 1957 film shows a long-ranged massive shootout whereas the real incident featured fewer guns, fewer shots and a much closer range in a fight that lasted perhaps 30 seconds. Unlike the depiction in this movie (and many others), Wyatt Earp was not even a U.S. Marshall at the time of the fight. We have already presented a list of 10 movies that are historically inaccurate. To read it, please refer to “10 Things History Got Wrong, Part Five (Movie Edition).” In the remaining article, 9 more examples of Hollywood movies that contains inaccuracies or exaggerations are listed. (Note: Space does not allow listing each and every inaccuracy.)
9. They Died With Their Boots On, 1941.
Starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, They Died With Their Boots On purports to depict the events surrounding “Custer’s Last Stand” at the 1873 Battle of the Little Bighorn. George Armstrong Custer, known as “Yellowhair” to the Indians, actually had flaming red hair. Plus, far from knowing his men were riding to certain death as shown in the movie, Custer thought his troops would slaughter a mostly defenseless village. The movie also falsely shows Custer as a humanitarian fighting for the rights of Native Americans against a hyper-evil collection of corrupt politicians and businessmen. In real life, Custer was seeking glory through the slaughter of Indians so that he could run for political office, possibly even for president. In the real battle, many soldiers killed themselves with their pistols to avoid capture and torture, and the final defense was not a “last stand” but rather a confused and scattered panic. The movie even features a fictional letter left behind by Custer to remove all blame from the Native Americans for the massacre. History and Headlines Trivia: Most of the “Native Americans” in the movie were Filipinos.
8. Pocahontas, 1995.
Pocahontas is a Disney cartoon that portrays the common misconception that the Indian “princess” had a love affair with John Smith when in real life she married John Rolfe and had never been in love with Smith at all. Furthermore, at the time of the supposed romance, the girl would only have been about 10 years old. The film also depicts Smith leaving to seek medical care, promising to return to Pocahontas, whereas in real life she married John Rolfe,went to England and died there of an unknown natural cause at age 21 or 22 without ever returning home.
7. Pearl Harbor, 2001.
For starters, no one in Pearl Harbor is shown smoking cigarettes, a choice intentionally made but horribly historically inaccurate as just about every man smoked back then. Then, to top it off, a pack of Marlboro Lights is shown, and that type of cigarette was not available until the 1970s. This movie is basically about a couple of intrepid U.S. pilots who blast Japanese planes out of the sky during the attack on Pearl Harbon, when in real life, though they did manage 6 enemy “kills,” the few American planes that went up were overwhelmed quickly. The dogfights were not fought at the extremely low altitude depicted, and one of the surviving real-life pilots harshly criticized the movie’s portrayal of the fighting scenes. The film then goes on to show those fighter pilots partaking in the Doolittle Raid on Japan in B-25 bombers, which of course are not flown by fighter pilots. Various other errors regarding insignia and weapons are rampant, with an M-26 Pershing tank being shown when production actually began later in the war and the liner RMS Queen Mary being shown in normal commercial paint when she would have been painted wartime grey. The air conditioners shown on top of the White House did not exist at the time, and the same ship was used for both the American and Japanese aircraft carriers.
6. The Battle of The Bulge, 1965.
The author saw The Battle of the Bulge with his uncle when it came out, and both of them liked it. The movie, however, was so full of inaccuracies that former President Eisenhower, who was the Allied commanding general at the time of the battle, actually held a press conference to denounce the movie! (Top that one, JFK!) The wrong tanks were used in filming; e.g. Korean tanks were employed and US M-47s and US M-24s were used instead of German Tiger IIs and M-4 Shermans, respectively. In terms of location, the Spanish countryside was a pathetic substitute for the real northern European battlefield, and filming in summer despite the battle taking place in the bitter cold and snowy winter hurt the authenticity of the film. Unlike Patton (listed below), the film fails to show the significance of the contribution of Allied air power when the weather cleared, and it also fails to correctly represent British involvement in the battle. When the movie does mention Field Marshal Montgomery, he is shown as the commander of the Eighth Army, when in fact it was the 21st Army Group.
5. 300, 2007.
300 is a pure fantasy film based on a comic book. The Greeks are shown fighting with bare midriffs displaying their six-pack abs, when in reality they would have been heavily armored. In addition, all of the Greek soldiers would have had plumed helmets, not just Leonidas. Of course, Xerxes was not a giant, and the Persians did not ride gigantic rhinoceroses into combat. Furthmore, the portrayal of the Persians as monstrous, demonic barbarians, enraged their descendants, the modern Iranians. Ephialtes, the character who betrays the Spartans, is depicted as a malformed monster, while in real life, he was normal boy. To keep the audience sympathetic to their plight, the Spartans are intentionally shown not as cruel or brutal as they would have been.
4. Gladiator, 2000.
Let us begin by saying that the Russell Crowe character is completely fictitious. Gladiator also reveals Emperor Commodus as a short-term creep who dies in the arena when in real life he was emperor for 13 years and reasonably good at his job. When he did die, it was in his bath, killed by a wrestler named Narcissus. The real-life father of Commodus died from plague, not from Commodus strangling him. Roman soldiers are shown wearing helmets and uniforms that were made up just for the movie, and horsemen are shown using stirrups, which did not yet exist. The Germans are depicted wearing attire more reminiscent of the Stone Age than of the Roman times. Siege weapons are used in forest battle scenes, and buildings that had not yet been contructed are already standing in Rome.
3. Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 2007.
Set in 1585, Elizabeth: The Golden Age has Elizabeth being courted by Ivan the Terrible who actually died in 1584. In fact, the entire portrayal of suitors and the queen wanting marriage and children is wrong, as Elizabeth was 52 years old at the time. The film also depicts Mary, Queen of Scots with a Scottish accent, when in reality she would have spoken with a French accent. Mary is also quickly executed after her capture, when in reality she was first imprisoned for 19 years. Sir Walter Raleigh is shown as being a major player in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, when in fact it was Sir Francis Drake, and an Englishman is seen saying, “We’re losing too many ships,” when the English lost no ships at all in the real battle. The 22-year-old Isabel of Spain is portrayed as an infant, and a conspiracy to kill Elizabeth is foiled by a pistol that has been loaded with powder but no bullet, whereas in reality the planned assassination was stopped in its early stages. The conspirator is only shown hanged, while in real life he was hanged, drawn and quartered.
2. The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, 1999.
The first inaccuracies in The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc are in the beginning scene when Joan’s village is shown as being attacked by the English and her sister as being raped. These two things did not happen. There is also an implied rape of Joan that also did not occur in real life. The judge at Joan’s trial is shown to be sympathetic and compassionate, while in real life he was eager to see her burn. Also, Joan is depicted as disavowing the Catholic Church, another inaccuracy (would they make a saint of someone who had done so?). Joan is also portrayed as a bloodthirsty killer who, out for revenge, happily massacres English troops. In reality, however, she did her best to minimize unnecessary deaths and tried to spare her enemies when they were beaten. Unrealistic weapons also make an appearance in the movie, notably a large propeller-like device that chops off heads. Christian historians claim that her visions are misportrayed in movie in that her “real” versions were replaced with fantastic alternate versions.
1. Patton, 1970.
Although one of the truly epic war films of all time (6 Oscars, including Best Actor and Best Movie) and featuring a fantastic performance by George C. Scott as the title character, the movie falls short of historical accuracy in several ways. For one thing, General George S. Patton had a reedy, squeaky voice, not the gravelly gruff, low-toned sound produced by Scott. Perhaps the movie would have been more accurate, if the movie producers had not lost any cooperation from the Patton family when they blundered by approaching the family for information the day after Patton’s widow was buried. Gen. Omar Bradley is depicted in the movie as a close friend of Patton, but in real life, Bradley likely hated the flamboyant Patton. Also, Patton regularly dropped “F” bombs when he spoke, especially during his famous “pep talk” which is depicted at the beginning of the film. The movie makers, however, deleted any such utterances to avoid the film being given an R-rating. During the movie pep talk, Patton is shown in full regalia and displaying all his medals, which he never did in public, and he is shown as a 4-star general, which he was not at that time.
Bonus Film: King Kong, 1933.
To begin with, King Kong shows the “natives” of Skull Island as Negroes, when in real life they were Polynesians. Additionally, Fay Wray is being sacrificed scantily clad, while in reality she was totally naked, a change necessary because of censorship. Even the monsters were not quite right, with Kong killing a Tyrannosaurus Rex when in real life it was an Allosaurus he killed by prying its jaws apart. When Kong climbs the skyscraper, the movie shows the Empire State building, when he actually climbed the Chrysler building instead. Even the machine guns fired by the airplanes at Kong are wrong; American-made Brownings and not British Vicker guns were used. And finally, as Kong lay on the sidewalk, the Carl Denham character says, “…it was beauty who killed the beast.” The actual quote was much more profane with, “The gorilla died for pussy.” The remakes of this classic film failed to correct these errors. FYI, this entire entry was made up and probably had you scratching your heads because you did not realize that King Kong was real… not! ;-P
Question for students (and subscribers): What other movies would you nominate? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Sandys, Jon. Movie Mistakes: Take 3. Virgin Digital, 2013.